Well first off let me say that Rob Brown of the Shooters an Fishers Party, who chaired this Upper House inquiry for over a year, has done a fine job for us. Despite all the politics and posturing and inevitable attempts by the Greens and their allies to water down the recommendations this is still a pretty reasonable report with some potentially positive outcomes for angling in NSW.
However, to find out what really went on we need to dig a little deeper and to break down our examination into three key areas; namely the evidence, the recommendations and the process.
This is most impressive part with over 1000 submissions, more than 100 witnesses and 10 public hearings across NSW. The evidence base alone has made this an invaluable exercise and gives us a great resource base on which we can draw in future campaigns. A clear majority of witnesses and submissions illustrated how the existing Marine Parks and Sanctuary Zones were poorly conceived and implemented and were bereft of proper scientific justification. There was also a strong case made for transferring monies spent on Marine Parks into tackling the real threats to the aquatic environment which are land use practices and habitat destruction as well as commercial over exploitation. Powerful arguments were put forward to overhaul ACORF and transfer the management of Marine Parks into Fisheries.
Although there are some good things put forward there are too many “reviews” and “considers” rather than “change” and “musts”. It is a shame that the Labor members of the committee, particularly Linda Voltz, combined with the sole Green - Ian Cohen, to water down the recommendations that the evidence suggested should have been put forward.
I will highlight a few of the good things:
And some potentially bad things:
Most alarming of all has been the behaviour of Cohen and Voltz who moved scores of amendments deleting references to any evidence which did not correspond to their own personal views of the world. This is a travesty of the process in my opinion. I spent 13 years as an active member of a number of major Select Committees in a national parliament and the golden rule was to make the report reflect the evidence not your prejudices!
Now they couldn’t remove the evidence transcripts from the public record but they did try to expunge references to evidence they didn’t like in the final published report. Here are just some examples …
And so on and so on … it will take you a while to get to the end of all these ridiculous amendments but if you download the report HERE and then go to Minutes 13, 14 and 15, which are at the back of the report from about page 396 onwards, you will see what these characters have been up to. You might also like to read Rob Brown’s dissenting report in Appendix 9.
Funnily enough it seems as if Voltz and Cohen were so busy removing references to vast tracks of evidence they didn’t like from people as knowledgeable as Canberra Fisheries professor Bob Kearney and representatives of NSW fishing clubs that they forgot to delete a whole range of recommendations that are good news for us!
Anyway, I think we should be pressing for the publication of the full, uncensored report as it seems that our opponents are afraid of the facts. Apparently the original Chairman’s Draft Report is considered confidential and even those of us who took the trouble to attend and give evidence are not issued with a copy. All we get is the censored version after Cohen & Co have done their worst. Crazy really, since anyone with a spare couple of weeks could piece it all back together by re-inserting the sections and recommendations that were removed. But why should we have spend our time playing word games when this was supposed to be an exercise in public scrutiny? I’m sure that Fisho would be only too pleased to publish the two versions of this report side by side so that we can all see, at a glance, what evidence the Greenies tried to suppress!
That said we should welcome this report as a useful guide for the NSW Government and ask them for a response ahead of the election in March rather than waiting to the June deadline. If the government is short of time, and I concede it’s a weighty report, then at least the State party leaders can let us have a clear statement of intent as to which parts of which report they support or oppose. That way fishers in NSW can see what they are voting for which seems to me to be a pretty basic democratic requirement.
If you agree with either or both of these points why not write to Rob Brown, or drop me an email. I can be reached at email@example.com.
Let’s hope the politicians are listening and perhaps, instead of clamping down on their fellow citizens with a rod and line whose impact on fish populations is not only properly regulated but negligible, they turn their attention to the real threats to fish stocks. As any fishery scientist will tell them these include: inshore pollution, sedimentation and agricultural chemical run-off which destroys the spawning habitats vital to successful recruitment and, of course, commercial over-fishing.
Recreational fishing and boating is a huge part of the lifestyle here in Australia. It is worth over ten billion dollars to the economy and sustains thousands of jobs. Furthermore, kids who fish are less likely to get caught up in drugs and crime and fishing is a great way for them to learn more about the environment. Let’s also hope that the Inquiry findings are the beginning of a New Deal for the long suffering Australian anglers.
Ed’s note: An opinion piece by Martin Salter on the state of fishing and marine parks in NSW appeared in last weekend’s Daily Telegraph - read it HERE.]]>
The fact that people in Australia and NSW even feel the need to form and vote for specific pro-fishing parties is, in my view, an admission of failure by the political establishment.
Given the ill-informed anti-angling bias that is prevalent amongst many of the more extreme Greens, it is hardly surprising that thousands of voters who enjoy fishing are feeling threatened and are looking for new leadership.
It takes a rare genius in a country with superb fisheries, a massive and pristine coastline and a comparatively small population to create such a large number of angry and disaffected citizens who simply want to go fishing for fun. Both sides of politics in Australia have done their best to alienate Aussie anglers.
Despite their recent posturing, it was the last Coalition government which brought in the Marine Parks Act in 1997 and set up the ludicrous bureaucracy which ignores fishery science in the process of designation and assessment.
Labor realised too late the electoral damage that the marine park lock-outs demanded by the Greens were doing to its core vote. In my short time fishing in this wonderful country I’ve already met plenty of former Labor voters worried at the price their party may have to pay for Green preferences.
Labor would be mad to sub-contract its environmental policy to the Greens. Nothing will placate the zealots in their ranks who wish to ban angling.
As a paying NSW recreational fishing licence holder, I share the frustration of fellow anglers who are locked out of fishing grounds for no good reason than an increasing number of marine parks.
Anglers are conservationists. It was the internationally renowned conservationist David Bellamy who described us as ” the eyes, ears and guardians of the waterside”. Locking anglers out of great areas of ocean makes no sense when there is not a single species of fish in Australian waters endangered by recreational fishing.
At the recent parliamentary inquiry into recreational fishing, Al McGlashlan and I put forward a plan to allow anglers in receipt of a special permit who practise “catch and release” to be allowed access to a majority of the marine park sanctuary zones from which they’ve been excluded. Let’s hope the politicians are listening and perhaps, instead of clamping down on their fellow citizens with a rod and line whose impact on fish populations is not only properly regulated but negligible, they turn their attention to the real threats to fish stocks. As any fishery scientist will tell them, these include inshore pollution, sedimentation and agricultural chemical run-off.
Recreational fishing and boating is a huge part of the lifestyle here in Australia. It is worth over $10 billion to the economy and sustains thousands of jobs. Kids who fish are less likely to get caught up in drugs and crime and fishing is a great way for them to learn more about the environment. Let’s hope the politicians are listening and that the inquiry findings are the beginning of a new deal for long-suffering anglers.]]>
Last week the British Labour Party’s former Angling Spokesman, Martin Salter gave evidence to the New South Wales Parliamentary Inquiry into Recreational Fishing which is looking, amongst other things, at the controversial issue angling and Marine Parks which featured as a significant issue in the recent Australian Federal election. Mr Salter, who retired from the House of Commons in April and is living for a while in Sydney accused NSW politicians of providing poor representation for the State’s estimated 1 milion anglers who now have their own Fishing and Shooting Party. He put forward a plan to allow anglers in reciept of a special permit who practise ‘catch and release’ to be allowed to regain access to a majority of the Marine Park sanctuary zones from which they’ve been excluded.
In his submission of Mr Salter said;
“With three million anglers in a population of a little over 20 million that has just voted in a ‘hung’ federal parliament it is surprising that recreational anglers weren’t given greater attention by the two main political parties. The eve of poll statement by the Prime Minister on the highly controversial issue of further extensions to the Marine Parks programme, particularly on the Fraser Coast in QLD clearly came too late to prevent a voter backlash against sitting Labor members. The fact that people in Australia and NSW even feel the need to form and vote for specific ‘Pro-Fishing’ parties is, in my view, an admission of failure by the political establishment on these issues. Given the ill informed anti-angling bias that is prevalent amongst many of the more extreme green activists it is hardly surprising that thousands of voters who enjoy angling are feeling threatened and are looking for new leadership. This is in marked contrast to the UK where all the main political parties, with the exception of the Greens, readily signed up to the Manifesto for Angling produced by the countries national angling body, The Angling Trust.”
“It takes a rare genius in a country with superb fisheries, a massive and often pristine coastline and a comparatively small population to create such a large number of angry and disaffected citizens who simply want to go fishing. The problem is as much political as it is environmental and presents a challenge to which the mainstream politicians must respond. Nothing will ever placate the ultra-green extremists who wish to ban angling and would even make it illegal to keep animals for pets and who simply want to lock the human race out of large tracts of the earth and the oceans.”
Mr Salter contrasted the unhappiness of anglers in Australia with his own experiences in the UK where all the main political parties signed a joint manifesto pledge to support angling and where the recently introduced Marine Bill received strong support from the countries national angling governing body following ministerial assurances that recreational fishing would be permitted in a majority of the Marine Conservation Zones.
Mr Salter says;
“Although I’m supposed to be having a break from politics, as a paying NSW Recreational Fishing Licence holder I share the frustration of my fellow anglers who are being locked out of prime fishing grounds for no good reason in Marine Parks whose designation appears to be based on dodgy science and political dogma. Aussie anglers feel they have been badly let down by mainstream politicians who have failed to stand up to the anti-angling green extremists. Anglers are conservationists first and foremost, they are the eyes and ears of the waterside environment and locking them out of great swathes of the ocean makes no sense when their is not a single species of fish in Australian waters whose existence is endangered by recreational fishing alone.”
More Info: The full text of Mr Salter’s submission can be found here:
There is no doubt that properly managed Marine Parks are a good thing and an important management tool. However, they can only work by consent and, in particular, the consent and co-operation of those who regularly use, value and know about the areas covered by the Marine Park boundaries. It is clear that there will never be sufficient resources to properly police the boundaries and enforce the restrictions which is why community consent is so important.
From what I can see there have been problems in four areas - with the initial consultation processes, with the use of questionable or non existent scientific data to justify restrictions on angling in Sanctuary Zones, with the lack of comprehensive assessments of the restricted zones and with the basic failure to define exactly what it is that the marine environment requires protecting from ?
We should ask what species of fish in Australian waters are currently endangered solely by recreational angling ? The answer is of course none which is why there is little justification for excluding all forms of angling in most of the Sanctuary Zones. In fact, when it comes to either migratory fish species or highly mobile pelagic species it is a pretty pointless exercise and only increases pressure on other areas. Also, given that anglers are potentially the best enforcers of these zones against commercial abuse, if they were allowed access to them , the Marine Parks Authorities are losing valuable allies.
One of the greatest threats to both the marine environment and to healthy fish stocks is estuarine pollution usually caused by human activity or agricultural run-off and the loss of vital nursery areas such as mangroves and seagrasses. Every year huge numbers of fish eggs and fry perish as a result of acidification, eutrophication, chemical pollution and sedimentation. Simply locking anglers out of more and more areas of the ocean does absolutely nothing to resolve this most basic problem of habitat destruction and degradation.
- Much more needs to be done in the community to acknowledge the social , educational and environmental benefits of recreational angling. Education packs for all young anglers and the promotion of responsible angling in schools. Better communication with all licence holders to increase awareness of fisheries issues and angling opportunities and to encourage feedback.
- Properly quantify the number of anglers in NSW, the licence fee income and the overall contribution of the sport to the economy. 512,000 adult licences were sold on average annually over last 5 years, with the estimated total number of 900,000 - 1 million anglers in NSW including pensioners and young people who do not need a licence. A 2002 survey estimated angling worth $550m to NSW economy but the 2010 figure would be nearer to $800m. A more accurate assessment of numbers and economic impact will help make the politicians realise what an important constituency this is.
- End the arbitrary objective of establishing a set amount of waters to be designated as no take or no fishing zones and set out clear scientific and environmental criteria for the creation of Marine Parks and the establishment of Sanctuary Zones within the parks. Introduce a transparent process of assessment of impact including the social and economic consequencies of exclusions. Review the existing consultation procedures to allow for meaningful engagement and community consent. Consider a moratorium on new Marine Parks or Sanctuary Zone extensions until full assessments have been concluded.
- Relocate the Marine Parks Authority into the same department as NSW Fisheries with the establishment of a single body for administration and regulation.
- End the administrative distinction between Commonwealth and State Marine Parks by delegating enforcement, administration and budgets to the State Governments - afterall why have unnecessary duplication?
- Promote the creation of a single, independent body to represent anglers and the angling trade at State and Federal levels. Funding could be provided through a tax break to the industry which then delivers a levy on tackle sold to help finance the organisations and perhaps boost the coffers of the existing fisheries trusts.
- Use the 2011 review of bag limits and promotion of better environmental practice by anglers.. eg.. Minimum sizes for keep sacks, phasing out of knotted mesh, increased use of barbless, semi barbless and circle hooks. Increase size limits to ensure that all species have the chance to mature and breed eg. Jewfish - currently 45cms which should be nearer 70cms and Kingfish - currently 65cms when maturity is reached at 70cms.
-A separate and additional licence to be made available , for a fee, to existing licence holders wishing to be granted permission to fish in NSW Marine Park Sanctuary Zones in all but the most highly protected areas subject to the following restrictions and requirements.
It will not be possible to completely unravel the existing network of Marine Parks but it is entirely possible to re-determine what they are for and what and who can use them. They must be administered rationally and with proper scientific justification for any restrictions imposed on otherwise lawful activities that can be undertaken within them. Currently, the lock out of recreational anglers means there is a lack of information, data and enforcement - it is the worst of all worlds. A special licensing system would address these problems, provide invaluable research material absolutely free of charge and ensure that only responsible and serious individuals fished these areas in the most environmentally conscious manner. Obviously in some of the Marine Parks there would be a proven scientific case for retaining a small, highly protected area within in which all human activity is prohibited - such as Grey Nurse Shark sanctuaries and the like. There is nothing in these proposals which would prevent this from occuring .
Select Committee Members
Chair: The Hon Robert Brown MLC
Deputy Chair: The Hon Tony Catanzaritit MLC.
The Hon. Robert BROWN (Shooters and Fishers Party, LC Member)
The Hon. Tony CATANZARITI (ALP, LC Member)
Mr Ian COHEN (The Greens, LC Member)
The Hon. Richard COLLESS (Nat, LC Member)
The Hon. Charlie LYNN (Lib, LC Member)
The Hon. Christine ROBERTSON (ALP, LC Member)
The Hon. Lynda VOLTZ (ALP, LC Member)
Main contact Rachel Simpson 9230 2898 9230 3416
Principal Council Officer John Young 9230 3464
Senior Council Officer Kate Mihaljek 9230 3544
Assistant Council Officer Lynn Race 9230 3504
Legislative Council, Parliament House, Macquarie Street, Sydney NSW 2000
1. That a select committee be appointed to inquire into and report on the benefits and opportunities that improved recreational fisheries may represent for fishing licence holders in New South Wales, and in particular:
(a) the current suite of existing regulatory, policy, and decision-making processes in relation to the management of recreational fisheries in New South Wales, including the process for the creation of Marine Protected Areas and Marine Parks and the efficacy of existing Marine Protected Areas and Marine Parks,
(b) the effectiveness and efficiency of the current representational system of trusts and advisory committees that advise government departments and statutory authorities,
(c) the value of recreational fisheries to the economy in New South Wales,
(d) the gaps in existing recreational fishery programs, including the number and location of Recreational Fishing Havens, and
(e) ecologically sustainable]]>
Australians are a great people and I can’t help feeling that they deserve better than most of the politics and some of the politicians who were on offer last week.
Julia Gillard is a pretty impressive politician, a good (if slightly monotonous) communicator and, apparently, an excellent minister always on top of her brief. It seemed to me Australia, by and large, liked the lady.
They may have voted for her in greater numbers if she had spent longer in the top job spelling out a vision and allowing memories of the defenestration of Kevin Rudd to fade a little more.
On the other side was Tony Abbott, who some of my ALP friends assured me was an unelectable, half-crazed former president and founder of the Flat Earth Society whose gaffe-prone style would never survive the pressure and scrutiny of a full-on election campaign. They may have been half right, but it is now clear he proved himself a formidable and disciplined campaigner capable of staying on message for at least five weeks. Mind you, the ability to hide your true feelings from the people you are seeking to lead is hardly the finest pre-requisite for becoming prime minister.
The Coalition campaign was negative, disciplined and effective. They managed to turn the contest into a referendum on Labor’s fitness to govern, rather presenting themselves as a clear choice on who was best able to deliver a better future for Australia.
Stage one in the campaign manual for administrations facing re-election is: choice not referendum, future not the past. The Labor strategy came nowhere near achieving this, with its relentless focus on yesterday and lack of forward vision. For parties of the left in particular, the vision thing is crucial. With the exception of the national broadband network, I struggled to discern much mention of the sunlit uplands into which Labor would lead the nation. Where was Ben Chifley’s ”light on the hill”? Barack Obama’s ”yes we can”? Or even Tony Blair’s more utilitarian ”A lot done - a lot left to do” that saw Blair romp to a second successive landslide in 2001.
Worse, there appeared little sign of inter-linking narrative or punchy messages to cut through the fog of confusion that assaults the voters in any fiercely fought campaign. Abbott’s war cry of stopping waste, boats and new taxes may not stand serious scrutiny, but it was brutally short and easily memorable.
The home insulation program, schools investment overspends and emissions trading scheme fed the Coalition narrative of Labor waste and incompetence and masked the good story to tell on the economy.
Australian national debt, at 6 per cent of gross domestic product, compared to 76 per cent in Britain and 72 per cent in the US, should hardly have been an issue. By failing to put both the strength and future of the economy at the centre of its campaign message, Labor threw away its strongest card and allowed the opposition to set the agenda.
Almost unbelievable was that a confessed climate change denialist like Abbott could land any blows in a nation with regions on the very margins of habitability. Gillard’s ridiculous citizens assembly hardly made the government look credible on the very issue said to have triggered Rudd’s slide into unpopularity.
The Coalition and Abbott were policy-lite and still carried damaging baggage from the Howard era and, more recently, their inept response to the global financial crisis, yet they turned the contest into a referendum on the government rather than the clear choice Labor needed it to be.
Abbott made two big mistakes at his otherwise impressive campaign launch. The ”worst government in history” jibe invited much tougher response than Labor provided. It created the opportunity for the government to accuse him of talking down Australia - always a problem for opposition leaders.
Second, his debt reduction task force should have been rebranded ”Abbott’s schools and hospitals reduction plan” by Labor. He had form in cutting health when in government and Gillard has a record of expansion in education. Abbott’s fitness to be prime minister was always a strong card for Labor, but it was poorly played.
There needed to be more focus on achievements, rather than endless announcements which, after a while, seemed meaningless or invited cynicism. We should have heard more about hospital waiting list cuts, improving school results, more apprenticeships, more new jobs and Australia’s strong economic position.
And where was the big forward offer? A pledge in three years’ time on how Australians could not only look forward to greater prosperity, but to a range of public service guarantees for them and their families to build a fairer society. A Charter for Australia?
I reckon most people wanted to give Gillard a fair go. More may have come on her side if a Labor campaign had helped rather than hindered her cause.
first published by the Sydney Morning Herald, 24 August 2010.]]>
Apparently the old, two-party system had had its day and the public were crying out for pluralism, cooperation and even coalition. Well maybe they were - for about five minutes or so - but the Liberal/SDP Alliance ended in tears in 1988 after public policy rows, irreconcilable personality differences and a disastrous performance in the 1987 general election which saw them fail to gain a single new seat.
The rise of New Labour and the demise of the the Tories at the fag end of the Major government gave precious few opportunities for a third force to flourish. Twenty years on from the Gang of Four and the Limehouse Declaration, and the 2001 second Labour landslide seemed to suggest that the old mould of politics, far from being broken, was as intact as ever, with one hegemony being replaced by another.
In fact, it took the disastrous decision to invade Iraq before the third party could make any real advances and even some of these were reversed at the recent election. It is not much more than an accident of electoral arithmetic, arising from Cameron’s failure to land a killer blow on a weakened and poorly led Labour Party, that some parts of our great nation are now ruled by Liberal ministers for the first time in nearly a century.
Of course the new arrangements have been accompanied by the same mould-breaking drivel that was being spouted in 1981. Now I don’t doubt that coalition politics could have the potential to attract new levels of support and therefore create long-term term problems for Labour as it seeks to rebuild. However, all political parties have to stand for something substantial other than a longing for the trappings of office, and neither Clegg nor Cameron are figures of substance. Furthermore, I do not see how the ideological differences that divide most Tories and Lib Dems can be papered over for longer than a few months. This is why there is now an excellent opportunity for Labour if they select a new leader capable of articulating new and distinctive policy priorities that are attractive to younger voters in particular.
For me the decision to back Ed Miliband is a no-brainer. I have watched this guy in action in tough ministerial meetings at Energy and Climate Change as well as at the dispatch box. He is a sharp, warm and intelligent communicator and, although with cabinet experience, he does not smell of the tired old Blair-Brown divisions that will haunt his main rivals. The younger Miliband is a genuine environmentalist, although he should have resigned over the third Heathrow runway, and this is an issue which will return to prominence and exercises more newer voters than old.
But irrespective of whoever gets to lead my party, for me life has already moved on. I’m now based for a while on the other side of the world in Sydney, in a country where Labour is in power both nationally and in a majority of the states. Two-party tribal politics is not only alive and kicking down here, it is in-yer-face, complete with some choice expletives.
So its goodbye to the brave new world of coalition politics in Britain, to yet another Labour leadership contest and, I’m afraid, to Daily Telegraph blogs. I’ve enjoyed covering the election period for a newspaper from the other side of the political tracks. Its been fun to occasionally read some of the more rabid comments from the not so brave, anonymous standard bearers of the Right, but it is now time to retreat back to our respective comfort zones.]]>
The new MPs have a Prime Minister and a Deputy Prime Minister from what were once diametrically opposed political parties who look and sound like twins separated at boarding school. Having spent years attacking and loathing each other, scores of Lib Dem and Tory MPs now have to play happy families so that their leaders can enjoy the trappings of office - at least until the whole “rag-tag and bobtail coalition”, to quote the excellent Dennis Skinner, completely unravels. The Labour newbies, meanwhile, have to adjust to life in opposition under an acting leader who has wisely declined to take part in an endless contest between two people called Milliband. (For the record, I’m backing the one called Ed. )
I’ve heard some wonderfully naive nonsense about the new Parliament with its large new intake ushering an era of “new politics” bereft of the bad old ways. Well, the resignation of David Laws following the Telegraph’s revelations about his personal accommodation claims, coupled with Number 10’s clumsy attempt to censor the BBC’s Question Time panel, must make the new boys and girls feel they are back in a time warp rather than wandering in the sunlit uplands of a new world.
And of all of them are having to grapple with a crazy new system of allowances and a press pack just waiting to pounce on any mistake or indiscretion, however minor or inadvertent. With memories of the last “Manure Parliament” giving them nightmares, no wonder some of the newbies feel stranded on a high wire without a safety net. In fact, I’ve already seen one posting on ConservativeHome from a recently elected Tory MP wondering if they’ve made the worst mistake of their life.
Luckily, some good advice has been provided by kindly and experienced souls from across the party divide. I particularly liked Paul Goodman’s nine-point plan for newly elected members in which he said:
“Remember that your family and friends matter more, in the end, than being Under-Secretary of State for Ball Bearings and Cycle Clips. Give them time and trouble. Get out of the constituency when you feel you have to. Don’t do anything on Sundays unless you must. Make time for books, if you read them, films, if you see them, and passions, if you have them. Switch the BlackBerry on to silent mode and turn up the volume for Mozart… well, for LL Cool J, since you say that’s your thing. Cook dinner. Write a sonnet. Climb a mountain. And talking of writing, never, never trust a journalist. Except, of course, this one.”
Last week The House Magazine produced a handy Survival Guide for New Members which aims to help them settle in and avoid some of the more obvious pitfalls. The contributors include Tory Treasury Committee sage Michael Fallon on how to be effective on Select Committees; Labour’s Gisela Stuart and Ian McCartney on dealing with the Whips and the perils of the greasy pole of power; Conservative rebel Douglas Carswell on being an independent backbencher; and the scandal hit ex-Tory MP Michael Brown on handling the media. My own contribution on being a constituency MP was inevitably somewhat more parochial:
“Never lose touch with your constituency. Produce regular reports detailing your work, both in the patch and in Parliament, and try to get a column in your local paper. Pick your fights with care, but it is good to get a rebellion in as quickly as possible to put the whips in their place and show your constituents you are not a gutless patsy. Remember this bit of advice given to me in 1997 and pass it on to those who follow on from you: “No matter how tough things get, never forget that the House of Commons is the best megaphone in the world. Use it well and use it wisely for the issues that matterto you and your constituents and you won’t go far wrong”.”
I genuinely wish all our new legislators well, but I suspect that this Parliament is going to be heavy going, at least for those who don’t have access to a reliable political compass (and a private income).]]>
Dave’s attempts to don his “heir to Blair” mantle by picking and winning an early fight with his more vocal backbenchers was always going to end in tears. Tony Blair rarely had any trouble getting his preferred candidate elected as chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Certainly in his first term, even the six representatives elected from the backbenches were unlikely to cause the whips too many anxious moments. In fact, it wasn’t until the 2005, post-Iraq parliament, when Blair’s power had begun to wane, that the PLP found its voice and started to elect officers who weren’t afraid to challenge the leadership on occasion. I spent nearly three years on Labour’s Parliamentary Committee under both Blair and Brown, during which time it operated as an useful brake on some of the dafter ministerial proposals and as an effective voice for backbench concerns.
Now that Cameron has, sensibly, climbed down over the 1922 changes, he has bought himself a little breathing space - though he has Brady to deal with, of course. But this row could be the first of many, as those who never liked or trusted Dave and his project have scented blood and will be tempted to flex their muscles in the future. The formidable David Davis is “on manoeuvres”, and not just over the late payment of allowances.
Senior Tory sources are also predicting serious ructions over plans to impose primary selection contests in the 200 safest seats, many of which are currently occupied by Dave’s fiercest critics. Our new Prime Minister will need to watch his back because, unlike Blair, he has never delivered an outright victory - and that gives him considerably less political capital to expend on internal battles.]]>
“I shall make my commitment to guarantee, by any means at my disposal, that should John Bercow become Speaker, I will do my best to make sure that it is the one of the shortest served appointments in the grand, and glorious history of that coveted chair.”
Nad has run an internet and press campaign as ferocious as it is bonkers, which has tried to drag Bercow’s private life into the public arena. She has even gone as far as to declare him unfit to hold the office because of the political views held by his wife Sally and his failure to support her own attempts to restrict access to abortion services for women.
John Bercow, who was re-elected comfortably at the general election as MP for Buckingham, has confounded many of his critics on the Tory benches and is well on the way to becoming a successful reforming Speaker. He has already established the first Speaker’s Advisory Council on Public Engagement to give advice on how to restore the trust between Parliament and the public, granted Urgent Questions with more frequency, ensured better scrutiny of Ministers and a closer monitoring of responses to written questions, which previously tended to fall into a parliamentary Bermuda Triangle. He has introduced a monthly ballot for Members who would like to stage events in the Speaker’s House for charity and has been a powerful advocate for Commons reform.
However, Bercow could become the new coalition’s first constitutional crisis if Nad and her merry crew get their way when, by convention, the re-elected Speaker is given the nod to continue in the chair as one of the first acts of the new Parliament.
The plot to oust Bercow was frustrated in the last Parliament when the Tories on the Procedure Committee failed to get approval for their wheeze to do away with an open vote on the re-appointment of the Speaker and its replacement by a secret ballot or cowards’ charter, as it became known. There is no doubt that Nad and a handful of others will shout “object” when the time comes, and word is they plan to promote the mighty Ming in the unlikely event of them winning a division in the Commons to trigger a full blown election for a new Speaker.
At the election, Cameron and Clegg both gave strong endorsements of Bercow, who stood as “Speaker seeking Re-election” in the time-honoured fashion. Quite apart from the constitutional quandary of disregarding the decision of the electorate and the previous Parliament, the last thing the coalition leaders will want is to see their own commitment to reform engulfed in a massive row over the defrocking of a reforming Commons Speaker.
There are two other slight problems for the plotters. Firstly, no one is sure if Ming Campbell actually wants the job or has even been asked. Secondly, Nadine Dorries is probably the worst cheerleader for any campaign at the moment, given the controversy over her second home claims.
For all those bright-eyed, ambitious new MPs, sharing a division lobby with Nad and her bunch of dinosaurs would be a particularly dumb early career move .]]>
Stand-in Labour leader Harriet Harman said that Parliament needed to consider how best to protect MPs. This is what everyone also said nine years ago after Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones was wounded and his aide, Andrew Pennington, stabbed to death in a Samurai sword attack at the party’s office in Cheltenham. Harman tells us: “One of the great strengths of the British political system is the everyday accessibility of MPs to their constituents but we can’t have a situation where MPs are at risk.”
Well, I’m afraid unless we permanently hide them away from the public, MPs are always going to be at risk from assault by the mad or bad. Despite holding my Friday night advice surgeries on a drop-in basis where anyone could turn up, I never experienced any violence, although it got close a couple of times. However, always at the back of my mind was what I would do if things got out of hand. I never held a drop-in session on my own and although the appointment-only Saturday surgeries were solo affairs I always insisted in taking a phone number and address in advance so my office knew who to expect. I will also confess to keeping a reassuringly large and heavy paperweight on my desk which, I’m pleased to say, never in the whole 13 years had to be put to an alternative use.
But not all was always sweetness and light in the former People’s Republic of Reading West, and I received my share of death threats, some of which we took seriously enough to call in the police. Most were from pathetic individuals and one particularly satisfying outcome was the brain-dead BNP member who inadvertently revealed his identity online and broke down in tears when arrested by the boys in blue. This not-so-noble member of the master race agreed to go on an anger management course and to write me a grovelling letter of apology in return for a police caution.
I took more seriously the attack on my constituency office, with attempts to kick in the door followed by the word “Jew” scrawled in large letters all over the front of the building. This came shortly after the Nigel Jones incident and some well publicised work I had been doing with the anti-fascist group Searchlight on the thuggish conduct of leading figures in the BNP and other Far Right organisations.
With two young women working largely on their own in the office for the best part of the week, it seemed only responsible to utilise the security budget that the Commons authorities had introduced for the installation of panic buttons, an intercom and security shutters. The equipment was duly delivered, only for us to discover that just 50 per cent of the cost was recoverable from the designated budget. The only way the full £6,000 bill could be met in full was either by cutting the wages of my staff or, as was eventually the case, to pay for it myself.
Here’s a job for the new Commons Leader, Sir George Young - to bring in security measures to protect, where possible, MPs and their staff from random attacks either in their surgeries or at their constituency offices. I can think of no other group of workers who have to dip into their own pockets to fund their own protection or that of their staff.
And, in the meantime, I wish a speedy recovery to Stephen Timms - one of the nicest, most decent politicians I’ve ever worked with.
Mind you I’m pleased that the nonsense of a Rainbow Coalition has been kicked into touch, as it was always a non-starter. The only coalition between Labour and the Lib Dems should have been one designed to establish how they work together in opposition to minimise the damage the Tories will try to do to the weak, poor and vunerable. Now a whole raft of dreadful Conservative policies will have Lib Dem fingerprints all over them. At least Labour will have clean hands and can look forward to an early general election with some relish, as I don’t give this alliance of the deluded more than two years.
There will be some squeaky bums on the Liberal benches as they realise what they have done. This is not a party prepared for or capable of government, with the single exception of the excellent Vince Cable. Clegg has ripped up the agreement that Lib Dem MPs made only a few days ago not to accept ministerial posts but only to try and work out a shared agenda. Many years ago, a Lib Dem council leader told me that trying to get all his colleagues facing in the same direction was akin to “herding cats”. Now the cat-herders are in government.
It would be churlish, however, not to acknowledge the qualities of the three main players in these last five days of political drama. Cameron, since his election as party leader four and a half years ago, has overseen a remarkabe turnaround in Conservative fortunes. Clegg has played a blinder in the inter-party negotiations and found his voice in the televised leaders’ debates, although this failed to translate into seats for the Lib Dems. Brown made a dignified exit and can take comfort from an election performance that exceeded expectations, although he did acknowledge his own role in Labour’s demise.
But let us save our last thoughts for the political geniuses over at The Guardian. Was this the “epoch-changing” coalition they had in mind when they encouraged their readers to vote Lib Dem, thereby putting David Cameron in Number 10?]]>